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Opinion: NYCHA Tenant Leaders: Where Amazon Never Arrived, New Opportunity Arises

Photo: YourLIC

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has not been equitable across New York City. While some New Yorkers have been able to work from home, or leave the city temporarily to wait the pandemic out, our NYCHA family has been devastated with the astounding loss of life and by an economic collapse at a scale we have never experienced before.

We have seen many people speak out about how to help NYCHA recover from this pandemic. On behalf of the nearly 17,000 residents of four Western Queens public housing developments, the virus has been catastrophic for our neighbors and the number one thing we will need coming out of this unprecedented time is jobs.

Thousands of our neighbors have lost their jobs and income, and we are ready to help New York City get back to work. NYCHA is the bedrock of Long Island City and the permanency of our homes provides an opportunity to access our residents for job opportunities. But we need the access, and we need to kickstart the creation of new opportunities to make up for the jobs that have been lost and may never return.

We recently sat down with local Queens and citywide leaders in the workforce development community, convened by four developers (MAG Partners, Plaxall, Simon Baron Development, and TF Cornerstone) pursuing the Your LIC process to create a comprehensive plan for the Long Island City waterfront that is anchored with a strong jobs and commercial district.

We talked about an integrated, place-based workforce development plan that benefits the existing local workforce, including a community center that can connect all of Long Island City, flexible job training, pathways for high school students to find internships, services including childcare for families, and opportunities to strengthen soft skills.

It was uplifting to hear from our neighbors – non-profits, real estate stakeholders, workforce training experts, and residents – who have come together to begin to figure out real solutions to bounce back from this crisis and to build a future of opportunity.

Of course, we’re no stranger to fighting for the future of our community. Leading up to Amazon’s decision to pull their plans for ‘HQ2,’ we were making progress to ensure that the deal would work for all of us. This neighborhood was prepared to receive a job-training center, the launch of a workforce development program with LaGuardia Community College, modern after-school programs, and internships for our children.

For months following Amazon’s decision to pull out, we felt forgotten and it appeared that our goal of creating a Long Island City waterfront that would empower our community and create a significant number of jobs was lost.

Then last year, a new process emerged. The proponents of this new project began organizing a series of public engagements to hear firsthand what Long Island City residents want to see along the waterfront.

Since the very beginning of the process, NYCHA residents have had a seat at the table, with hundreds from the community participating in the public workshops and online discussions. Our voices are finally being heard and we are continuing to meet with members of the Your LIC team to make sure that the proposal is one that works for all of us.

Since the first workshop in November of last year, we have discussed the importance of economic empowerment in workforce development, resiliency, and creating connected public open space, and schools, places for the arts, and other community spaces.

We know that the buildings proposed on the waterfront may be tall and dense, and some people will have concerns about that, but we’ve been seeing towers rise in Long Island City for a long time. In those developments, residents come and go, but the residents in NYCHA developments in Western Queens are permanent, and it’s time for a proposal that benefits and draws from the human capital in our communities.

The need to deliver jobs – here in Western Queens – and community benefits are more critical than ever for the future of this place. These are the types of tools and investments that make a real difference in people’s lives and will do so for our children, too.

As we look forward to planning for the future of the Long Island City waterfront – and toward the future of our city as a whole – we can’t afford to squander yet another opportunity to create jobs and to deliver progress right here in a community that both needs it and deserves it.

When crises hit New York City, so many turn to NYCHA to lament how public housing residents are disproportionately impacted, but when given the opportunity too little action is taken. This is our community. Please don’t forget us once again. Support us as we build a strong future for NYCHA and our neighbors.

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Carol Wilkins is the president of the Ravenswood tenants association; April Simpson-Taylor is the president of the Queensbridge tenants association; Claudia Coger is president of the Astoria Houses tenants association; and Annie Cotton-Morris is the president of the Woodside Houses tenants association.

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